BBC1 Childbirth – all or nothing – Refreshing but could have done more

When I heard that one of Natal Hypnotherapy’s mothers was going to be on a TV documentary I felt the usual slight trepidation at how she, her birth and her choices were going to be portrayed. Over the years I have become quite cynical about these kinds of programs as usually they are looking for the “entertainment/trauma” value. Women who have chosen to use hypnosis for their birth preparation have been portrayed as very alternative, a bit hippy dippy, and often the editing focuses on the few times when the woman has been more vocal or going through self doubt, so giving the perception that the hypnosis “has not worked”.

However I was pleasantly surprised and relieved that the BBC program “childbirth – all on nothing” showed a very impartial and non-judgemental view of the different choices that women make when it comes to childbirth.  Also very refreshing, was the positivity of the healthcare professionals in their support of the women. Even if the healthcare professional was not fully in agreement with the woman’s choice (free birthing without a midwife), they remained supportive and nonjudgemental.

It was also refreshing that three out of the four women had chosen to give birth at home. This is very unusual compared to most birth related documentaries. Not only had the women chosen to give birth at home, but all of them had a very positive outlook on their bodies ability to give birth and felt very confident in their choice, their birth partner and, where applicable, their healthcare professionals support.

Only 2 of the actual births were shown and in many ways they could not have been further apart. The first birth was a planned cesarean which showed the medical procedure in great detail, including breaking the waters and lifting the baby out.

The second was Kati’s home birth using Natal Hypnotherapy.  Sadly it only showed about three minutes of the birth, however those three minutes were beautiful, empowering and inspiring.  She was so calm, focused and obviously had complete trust in her body and the birthing process. She gave birth in the water in a darkened room where she felt completely safe.  Her birth partner and supporting midwives were there for her but gave her the space she needed to follow her body’s cues and her instincts.

I have been in contact with Kati and although she feels the program was well made, she also feels that it did not really represent the actual labour and birth as well as they could have. She felt that it focused more on the fact that she wanted to eat the placenta rather than on her preparation for birth and the techniques used. As a result she has started a fundraising campaign to be able to re – edit all of the footage to show the birth in the way that she feels gives it justice. Anyone can donate from as little as £5 to enable her to create some bitesized videos which will empower women to feel more confident and less fearful about birth. You can read more and make a donation here–3

Some people will find the program quite extreme and will no doubt have their opinions on the women’s choices, however overall this is a very positive and useful documentary for women who are pregnant and want more information on the choices available, especially as it shows the option of Homebirth as one which is normal safe and acceptable.

As for my personal opinion, if a woman is given the right support, there was less fear mongering, more positivity about the body’s ability to give birth and increased awareness of techniques to help her stay relaxed and reduce pain, then more women could have the kind of birth experience that Kati had. Her birth undoubtedly was less risky, more healthy for her and her baby and less painful in the long run, in comparison to the woman who chose elective abdominal surgery to bring her baby into this world.

Breech birth using Natal Hypnotherapy

Guest Blog from Alison Barker

I attended the Natal Hypnotherapy workshop with Sandra in Wimbledon and regularly listened to the CDs throughout my pregnancy. I believe the tools with which natal hypnotherapy equipped me allowed us to have the home birth we desired. I wanted to write to you to directly to thank you as I will always be grateful for the incredible benefits of Natal Hypnotherapy.

There was a slight nuisance to my daughter’s birth which I thought it may be worth explaining briefly – my daughter was a breech presentation. Breech was not diagnosed until 40 weeks + 2. I had planned a home birth and therefore this potentially jeopardised this. However, after a failed ECV I spent time researching the area of breech presentation, having been told by the NHS that the only option was a C section.

I came across Ruth Atkinson from a google search (and Sandra separately also recommended I speak to Ruth). Ruth had given birth to a breech baby vaginally and she kindly took the time to speak to me and discuss her experience. Ruth put me in contact with Maya midwives who I subsequently engaged to assist with the birth.

In short, my experience was that the NHS simply do not have the experience of delivering babies vaginally as a result of (In my view) a now discredited trial study. Therefore, the only option for us was to hire an Independent Midwife. I also believe the only way for me to attempt a vaginal delivery was if I was at home without hospital intervention and to avoid the NHS policies/guidelines which could, in my view, have significantly affected the outcome.

Firstly, I believe I would not have had the confidence to commit to a vaginal breech birth if it wasn’t for the skills with which natal hypo equipped me. I truly believe my body knew how to give birth and trusted my instincts. Second, I was able to relax with the benefit of the CDs during the stressful period from the breech diagnosis which I believe allowed me to go into spontaneous labour (at 42 weeks). Third, I was able to have a beautiful home birth with no pain relief, other than a TENs machine and massage. It was an incredible experience.

Andrea Barker of Maya Midwives mentioned she has met you previously and that a breech CD may be in the pipeline. If you would like my birth story for the website or indeed for any other literature, I would love to spread the word to hopefully encourage more women to make informed decisions for their birth, particularly breech births.

Finally, I wish to note that Sandra has been incredibly helpful throughout the latter stages of my pregnancy. We thoroughly enjoyed her workshop in Wimbledon and am very grateful for Sandra’s assistance whenever I have asked questions of her regarding issues with the NHS as to my birth preferences, even at ungodly hours of the morning when I have been frantically researching! Also, Ruth has also been a true inspiration and, again, has taken the time to lend her support to me. I think Ruth and Sandra are great representatives of natal hypnotherapy.

Thank you for creating such a fantastic product which we will passionately  recommend to friends and family.

The impact of fear on a pregnant woman

If you were to ask the average pregnant women what emotions she feels when thinking about giving birth, a large percentage are likely to use words such as scared, worried, anxious or even frightened.  For many pregnant women, their only knowledge or experience around giving birth has been horror stories told by many friends and family and often skewed media portrayal ranging from so called “reality TV” to newspaper coverage of the negative issues surrounding maternity services. It is no wonder that this view of birth has led to increasing feelings of anxiety and fear.

So what exactly happens in a woman’s body if she is feeling frightened or anxious, and what effect will this have on her, her baby and her body’s natural process of birthing?

  1. Fear or anxiety will trigger the production of a hormone called adrenalin, which prepares the body for “fight or flight”.
  1. This leads to blood rushing away from the centre of the woman’s body and being redistributed to her brain and limbs. This takes blood away from the uterus – the set of muscles that really need fresh oxygenated blood – and away from her baby. When the muscles of the uterus are not getting fresh oxygen, they are not as easily able to get rid of the lactic acid which is produced when muscles are working hard; lactic acid needs to be excreted, or else pain increases. The muscles therefore lose some of their elasticity (essential when flexing and releasing), becoming harder and tighter. On top of that, the baby is not getting an abundant supply of fresh oxygen through the mother’s blood, and so, over a long period of time, can begin to get distressed.
  1. The muscles in her body will tense up, ready to fight or run away. In a birthing woman, the most significant muscles to tense up are the circular muscles of the cervix – keeping those tight to make sure the baby CANNOT be born when a mother does not feel safe. However, the long muscles continue to stretch and flex to try and open the circular muscles. So, essentially, the cervix and the uterus are fighting against each other.

Imagine how much harder it will be for the muscles of the uterus to open the cervix if it is all tense and refusing to budge! As all the muscles around the uterus and cervix are also tense, the poor old uterus is having to fight against the strain, rather than being free to contract and release.

You already know how much more painful things are if you tense your muscles, for example if you are having an injection. So, is it any wonder that, with all the tension in her body, the contractions are far more painful and less productive?

  1. The adrenalin neutralises the wonderful birthing hormones, including oxytocin (the one that makes the uterus contract and release),endorphins (natural painkillers), and relaxin (helps with elasticity of the muscles). The hormones, oxytocin and endorphins influence the degree to which we interpret feelings as pain or pleasure. If you reduce these hormones, then the perception of pain will go way up.
  1. All this “fight or flight” preparation uses a great deal of energy. As our bodies were only designed to be in this heightened sense of being prepared to fight or flight for a few minutes at a time, you can imagine that staying in this state for prolonged periods of time will be extremely draining and possibly even harmful to the woman’s baby. In addition, the longer she is in a state of tension, the less efficient her body becomes at flowing with the rhythm of birth.

All of the above are incredibly useful if there is a true reason to fight or run away; however, when there is no actual object of fear that can be dealt with, such as a wild animal, this state can go on indefinitely. This adrenalin-pumped situation was designed to last a few minutes. However, if it is prolonged, a woman will become exhausted, her baby can become distressed and her cervix may stop opening, or even close up.

Imagine now that a woman is labouring beautifully at home, managing the sensations, feeling at ease being in her own surroundings, watching TV or listening to music. Then things are hotting up and it is time to go to the hospital. First of all, making sure she has everything with her, she has turned off the lights, called whom she needs to, locked the front door, gone out into the cold and got into the car. Just these alone use up valuable energy and can create a level of anxiety.  She then has to sit, with a seatbelt on … Ugh … the worst position to be in when having a contraction. Her next thoughts may revolve around the traffic, breaking down, not getting there on time – stress … anxiety … aahhh – she finally gets there.

She then enters the hospital and is suddenly surrounded by strangers, and is being asked lots of questions; there are new and strange smells, noises, and machines; and from now on she is being observed. At a primal level, she is so far removed from the natural instinctive birthing environment that her levels of adrenalin have shot up and her body is attempting to try to stop or slow down labour until she feels safe and calm. As time goes by, her levels of adrenalin and anxiety reach excessive levels. By now her body is so tense that even though her uterus is still contracting, her cervix stops opening.

People around her start using terms like  “oh, not  dilating fast enough”, “failure to progress” and “baby in    distress”, which leads to more anxiety, more adrenalin and usually a roller coaster of intervention to “speed things up”. Once she is given any artificial hormones or chemical drugs, her body stops producing the right amount and balance of natural hormones, including the wonderfully powerful endorphins or natural painkillers, and so her body is struggling even more to flow through birth.

All of these factors have the ability to slow down or even stop labour, and a woman going through this truly does experience excruciating pain, which in turn reinforces the fear of the next contraction, and so the cycle goes on.

As you can see, a woman can become so entrenched in this horrible cycle that her body continues to hold back from birthing her baby, which may partly explain the current drastically high rates of chemical augmentation of labour and increase of Caesarean sections due to “failure to progress” – the most common reason for Caesarean sections today. It may also help to explain the rising rate of inductions, as the fear of birth may even prevent some women going into spontaneous labour.

With all this in mind, it is so important to help pregnant women to identify what it is that worries them and then give them tools and techniques to overcome those fear, to be informed about their options and to learn ways to counteract any adrenaline during labour through relaxation, letting go of fear and keeping their birth environment as “mamalistic” as possible.

One very powerful and beneficial tool in helping fight the fear is the use of hypnosis as it enables you to identify and metaphorically let go of worries and concerns as well as learn the tools to stay calm, relaxed and in control of your responses.

My new “letting go of fear” track helps women at any stage of pregnancy or birth.

Letting go of Fears
Letting go of fears now available to download

30 Minutes a day keeps stress at bay

With stress related illnesses on the increase, investing only 30 minutes a day can help everyone deal with the challenges and difficulties that modern day living and worries can bring. No matter how bad your situation, being stressed and anxious will only make it worse. Stress can cause everything from lost libido and depression to a heart attack and is one of the biggest health problems facing people today.

Hypnosis has been shown to be an effective and powerful tool in managing and reducing stress and with the new Relaxation and Stress Management CD/MP3, it takes just half an hour in the privacy of your own home to feel refreshed, calm and confident. At just £10 for the download or £11.99 for the CD, it is becoming a popular way to manage stress, meaning you wont have spend half your salary travelling to a Buddhist retreat to relax!

“I recently lost my job and as a single mum, am facing some major financial and career challenges – I could not believe how just listening to the CD a few times has helped me feel more positive, relaxed and even excited about finding a new way to move forward in my life” Emma, Surrey

This highly effective self-hypnosis CD plays soothing background music while the calming voice of qualified clinical hypnotherapist Maggie Howell takes you into a state of guided relaxation. This will not only help you deal more effectively with stress but also get better sleep, feel more in control and able to deal with all the challenges that you face.

Maggie Howell comments: “These are very challenging times for all of us, where stress levels can reach unacceptable highs. With this CD you can learn techniques to help you manage stressful situations more effectively, put things back in perspective, feel calmer and more in control, whilst providing immediate relaxation in just half an hour.

NICE guidelines – Home birth is a safe option

Today is a great day for all those midwives, doulas, antenatal teachers and men and women who believe that giving birth is a normal, physiological and emotional event in a woman’s life and should be treated with the utmost respect, dignity and awe. It is indeed a great day – women will now finally be given a more realistic (evidence based) view of home births.

Giving birth does not have to be a traumatic and medicalised process during which the woman feels scared, out of control and a cog in the NHS maternity system. The NICE guidelines, which were published today, have recognised that the evidence to date indicates that women who choose to have their babies in the safety and privacy of their own home under the care of a Midwife, or in a Midwifery led birthing unit have less complications and hence intervention.

But we should not forget that this day is the accumulation of years and years of hard work by some unbelievably dedicated and passionate women and men. I remember being at the launch of the Birthplace study in London and the buzz then was amazing – everyone truly felt that the tide was turning, and that was 3 years ago.  We need to keep up the momentum, support midwives in the amazing work they do, encourage our friends, sisters, daughters to believe in their bodies and to spread the word that feeling safe, positive and prepared will help all women to have better births.